1 December 08 | Chad W. Post

This is the tenth part of a presentation I gave to the German Book Office directors a couple weeks ago. Earlier sections of the speech can be found here. This is the penultimate part of the series . . .

Currently the marketplace is dominated by the idea that books should be enjoyable and useful, an entertainment alternative equivalent to watching TV or surfing the Internet. But, to be honest, books aren’t as immediately gratifying as a TV show. People who really read, who buy lots of books, are often attracted to the unique things the medium has to offer that goes beyond simple amusement. This discrepancy between books as simple entertainment and books as unique medium could be one of the reasons behind the dismal numbers reported in the NEA Reading at Risk and To Read or Not To Read reports, which found that in 2006, 15-34 year olds spent less than 10 minutes a day reading for pleasure. And that between 1985 and 2005, household spending on books fell by 14% when adjusted for inflation.

Independents driven by an editorial vision—houses like New Directions, Archipelago, Europa Editions—are in a better position because they aren’t trying to appeal to an enormous range of pleasure seekers, but are engaging with an active audience that is dedicated to the idea of serious literature. These houses are “deep” publishers doing a lot of books within a certain aesthetic range. Commercial presses ten to be very horizontal—publishing a few titles from a huge range of categories. Most importantly though, is the genuine desire to connect with their audience.

Despite having all the necessary resources and reach, commercial houses have historically been pretty bad at truly engaging with their audience. The websites for HarperCollins and Random House are aesthetically disastrous, and have little that draws a reader back or starts an electronic “relationship” with its fans. You may find excerpts and basic book data on the site, but you’ll also find an Obama book next to a cooking book next to a Michael Crichton thriller. There’s not much of a voice present on these sites, and there’s definitely not a sense of community. It’s as if the commercial publishers can only view readers as clients rather than supporters.

This idea that a press partners with its readers rather than simply treating them as customers is a concept that I believe will shape the future of publishing. For ages publishers have cut themselves off from their readers. For instance, the general public isn’t allowed to attend Book Expo, since publishers only want to deal with people in the industry. And the chain linking an editor with a reader is enormous, stretching from the author to agent to editor to sales department to wholesaler to bookstore buyer to bookseller to reader.

There are two main reasons that I think the iPod has been such a cultural force (aside from the “cool” factor): it isolates the user and makes him feel like a unique individual, while providing the listener with a greater freedom of choice than ever before. Parallel to the rise of the iPod and its message of individuality, social networking sites allowing people to connect and share information and recommendations have become more and more popular as well. Each of these innovations allows creators and producers to directly interact with “customers.” This combination of individual enjoyment, the empowerment of nearly unlimited choice, and instant access to a community of like-minded people is incredibly powerful and, in my opinion, is the setting the publishing industry should cultivate to engage and energize a large group of readers willing to explore and enjoy all types of literature.

Comments are disabled for this article.
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >

Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

Read More >

The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

Read More >

A Simple Story: The Last Malambo
A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Leila Guerriero
Reviewed by Emilee Brecht

Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story: The Last Malambo chronicles the unique ferocity of a national dance competition in Argentina. The dance, called the malambo, pushes the physical and mental limits of male competitors striving to become champions of not only. . .

Read More >

The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof
The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof by Cesar Aira
Reviewed by Will Eells

Aira continues to surprise and delight in his latest release from New Directions, which collects two novellas: the first, The Little Buddhist Monk, a fairly recent work from 2005, and The Proof, an earlier work from 1989. There are a. . .

Read More >

Agnes by Peter Stamm
Reviewed by Dorian Stuber

The narrator of Peter Stamm’s first novel, Agnes, originally published in 1998 and now available in the U.S. in an able translation by Michael Hofmann, is a young Swiss writer who has come to Chicago to research a book on. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >